Michael Chiarello Won't Open His Kimono... Yet

During the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, the chef talks about Miami, Italian food, and his plans for a new restaurant

Chef, vintner, TV host, and reality food TV contestant, Michael Chiarello is a busy man. And rumors have been circulating that he's about to get even busier — potentially opening two new restaurants in California. In preparation for the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, the chef weighed in on Miami as the next big restaurant city, why the Italian food trend isn't going anywhere, and kept upcoming plans for his next restaurant endeavors under wraps.


It seems like there are tons of chefs who already have, or are still planning on opening restaurants in Miami. In terms of hot places to open restaurants, is it the new Vegas?

To a smaller extent, South Beach has become its own Strip, but it doesn't have nearly the size of Las Vegas. Yes, there are celebrity chefs opening restaurants in Miami, but no, I don't think it will take over the city.

Some experts predict Miami is the next big restaurant city… agree?

Part of me thought so in 1984 when I opened a restaurant in Miami. It's an active, creative, innovative, chef-driven restaurant scene. We'll know if it's the next big restaurant city when the chefs opening restaurants in Miami move to Miami as well.

Do you have any local spots that you like to hit when you're in town? Any favorite places for Cuban sandwiches or other signature dishes?

Versailles, and all the guarapo stands on calle ocho (fresh sugar cane juice... the all-time greatest mixer for rum). On late nights on the weekends, lechón — forever-roasted pork, it has inspired a litany of dishes in my repertoire.

What role does ambition play when it comes to a chef's career?

It can make a good chef great and a great chef world-class.


Any advice for up and coming chefs about ways to achieve success?

Have a relationship with your learning, i.e. develop a relationship with the chef or person you are desirous to be learning from. Don't just turn to the Internet or YouTube.

It seems like the love for Italian food in America, particularly New York, not only never fades, but only strengthens. We've seen this with Del Posto's four stars, love for Eataly, the proliferation of Neapolitan pizzerias across America, Il Buco Alimentari's three stars, and now with Torrisi and Parm, even a reimaginging and fascination with Italian-American food… What do you think about this ever-surging trend? Why is it so trendy?

The popularity is simple. It's a cuisine born out of passion and love. It's approachable, understandable, tasty, and off its pedestal. If you make tasty food that has a great story and makes people feel great, it's a three-run homer.

How do you see this trend evolving over the next year/few years?

I think chefs will absolutely continue to explore microregional Italian cuisine like Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson is doing at Frasca in Boulder and Craig Stoll is doing at Locanda in San Francisco.

Back in November, SFGate and Eater reported that you were scouting 100-seat locations, preferably downtown or on the waterfront for a new restaurant, something "experimental" in Napa and something "not Italian" in San Francisco. Have you found spots/is there anything you can tell us about your upcoming plans?

I'm passionately seeking the perfect place in an iconic building. I can smell the finish line, but I can't see it. What's it gonna be? I'm not ready to open my kimono yet.